About the Author: Cheryl Benton serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
Recently, I traveled to Uganda in support of Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson's trip to the African Union. I later took a side trip to Tanzania, where I visited Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
While in Kampala, I had the opportunity to meet with civil society representatives. I believe civil society will be a major determinant in driving change on this vast continent, and that civil society is where Africa's future lies.
An astonishing sixty percent or more of Africa's population is 25 years old or younger, so I was particularly interested to meet with this segment of civil society. In Kampala, I met with a group young leaders at the U.S. Embassy. These young people, brimming with enthusiasm and thinking about their future, wanted to talk about education, about women's rights, and about what they could do -- what practical, immediate steps were available to them -- to make the future brighter for themselves and their families. These are the topics on the hearts and minds of the young people in Kampala.
When I spoke about the Secretary Clinton's commitment to women's empowerment, and underscored her statement that when you empower women, you empower families, and you empower a nation, I noticed their eyes grew bigger and their heads nodded.
My experience talking with them and with other civil society groups was an enlightening moment for me, and suggested a vision of hope for these countries. There was one young man from Zanzibar who had created a movement of "Youth for Obama," which became the "Zanzibar Youth Forum." This young man's goal was to bring people together to focus on improving their community, and he has made plans to launch a Zanzibar Youth Clean-Up Day. His inspiration was an American leader, but he translated it to his own experience, and applied it to his own community, and made it his own. The following week, this same young man was in attendance at the President's Forum with Young African Leaders. Both of us were delighted to see one another again.
When I spoke with the young people at the American Corner in Zanzibar, and about President Obama's speech in Ghana, I reiterated what the President said: The future of Africa is in Africa's hands. I saw light bulbs go off -- we do have the power to make our future what we would like it to be.